Traditional financial planning is all about math and money. You look at how much you earn, figure out how much you will need in the future to maintain your desired lifestyle and try to come up with an investment plan that will help you reach the magic number that will allow you to retire. The process is generally about as exciting as balancing a checkbook and as emotionally draining as paying taxes. Unfortunately, many people choose not to deal with it all, preferring to put off worrying about the future until it arrives. Others go about the process with a sort of resignation born of the fact that, aside from death and taxes, your bills are just another part of life - they need to be dealt with because you don't have much choice. However, there's a quiet minority of investors that are taking a different approach. It goes by a variety of names, but "life planning" is one of the more frequently heard terms.

SEE: Starting Early With Financial Planning

Life planning is different than traditional financial planning because the focus is more about who you are and who you want to be than it is about money. Unlike people engaged in the traditional planning process, people engaged in the life planning process don't look ahead in an effort to figure out how to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement. Instead, they look at how to change their current lifestyle to achieve the lifestyle of their dreams. Read on to discover how you can use this approach to financial planning.

The Ideal Lifestyle
Many people credit the baby boomers for this trend - former flower children who grew up and were absorbed by corporate America, but who never lost their ideals. Just as the boomers redefined their "golden years" as a time to be more active than their predecessors were, some want to go a step further and redefine themselves.

For these people, the concept of money is intertwined with the concepts of spirituality, creativity, family, service and other emotional aspects of personal satisfaction. Happiness is measured in more than just dollars and cents. It's not, "he who dies with most toys wins," it's, "he who gets the most out of life wins."

For many, it's more of a lifestyle change than anything resembling the retirement-planning process most of us are familiar with from 401(k) seminars at work or meetings with a financial advisor. The doctor who wants to be a painter, the law clerk who wants to be a poet and the city-dwelling office manager who longs for a cabin in the mountains are all increasingly turning to financial-service professionals for help in making those dreams come true. Of course, the money plays a big role too.

SEE: Retirement Plans

Money and Sacrifice
There's just no escaping the money (or the lack thereof). The mailman who wants to become Donald Trump is probably out of luck. However, the attorney who wants to trade in her suit to pick up a hammer and open a repair shop might be able to do it in cash. The others have to make choices, so they work with a financial advisor in order to determine how to develop the financial plan that will allow them to realize their personal goals.

Rather than trying to earn more money or build a bigger nest egg, a significant number of people need to make do with less in order to achieve their goals. Giving up the big house, trading in the BMW and skipping the month-long trips to Europe can help decrease expenses and enable people to trade in their day jobs for lower paying, but personally-fulfilling, professions and past-times.

If living in a small apartment frees up enough cash to increase time spent on the golf course, some people are willing to make the trade. In order to exchange the stress of corporate management for the quiet bliss of a career grooming pets, some people are willing to take a significant cut in pay. When you don't like what you're doing and know how you'd rather spend your time, life planning can help you make the transition.

It's Your Life
If your goal is simply to retire, still be able to pay the bills and maybe a take a few trips each year, that's one thing. If your goal is trade in your spot in cube city for spot behind the counter at your own bakery, that's another thing entirely. Instead of asking yourself, "How much do I need to save," ask yourself, "How am I willing to change my lifestyle in order to achieve my goal?"

From there, it's more about the mechanics of orchestrating a transition than it is about saving a certain amount of money or earning a certain rate of return on your investments. Just as each person has his or her own definition of happiness, the decision to pursue a lifestyle change is highly personal. It can involve enormous upheaval, but it can also result in enormous satisfaction. Prior to taking the leap, you should carefully examine your motivation and your financial resources. Then all you have to do is come up with the plan that will get you there.

SEE: Enjoy Life Now And Still Save For Later

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